Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Opinion

Whistleblowers could be enforcers of rule of law in Europe

  • The commission is actually defending individuals who are at the forefront of rule of law and transparency by disclosing information in the public interest (Photo: adil113/Flickr)

The proposal by the European Commission for a directive protecting whistleblowers could be a true turning point in how corruption and abuse of law is fought in the EU.

At a time in which liberal values are deeply challenged in Europe by governments with no regard for the rule of law, this directive offers a powerful yet subtle new approach to oversee the respect of EU fundamental values.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Cases like Antonie Deltour in the LuxLeaks revealed that even in EU countries otherwise considered to have solid protection for whistle-blowers, loopholes exist that lead to prosecution (Photo: Mélanie Poulain)

Whistleblowers have unique insider's access to information generally hidden for the general public.

Yet while they expose fraud and abuse that otherwise remains veiled under permanent secrecy, they typically face retaliation by their employers and have no incentive to speak out.

Cases like Antonie Deltour in the LuxLeaks revealed that even in EU countries otherwise considered to have solid protection for whistleblowers, such as France, Hungary, the UK and Luxembourg, loopholes exist that lead to prosecution.

After hesitating on whether it enjoyed competence to act, the EU eventually proposed to replace a patchwork of rules across the bloc and broaden their scope via a EU-wide protection laying down common minimum standards for the protection of persons reporting on unlawful activities across policy areas, ranging from nuclear safety to the protection of the environment, from food safety to data protection (yes, expect more Cambridge-Analytica-style scandals).

Through this proposal, the commission is actually defending individuals who are at the forefront of rule of law and transparency by disclosing information in the public interest.

This directive can therefore also be seen as a means of feeding national and EU enforcement systems as well as journalists with information leading to effective detection, investigation and prosecution in breaches of Union rules.

In particular, by requiring all member states of the Union to protect whistleblowers, regardless whether they work in the private or public sector, this directive offers an alternative mechanism to fight autocratic inclined governments, such Hungary and Poland, and enforce the rule of law across Europe.

Hungary and Poland?

If the proposed directive will be backed by the Council and the European Parliament, it can be a real change-maker for the rule of law deficit in many EU countries, particularly Hungary and Poland.

By contrast to external bureaucratic checks, as those foreseen under article seven 7 of the Treaty of the EU, whistleblower protection is a bottom-up oversight mechanism.

Although the directive requires for individuals to first report internally - which can be a real challenge in some national capitals - it also offers many clear possibilities for external reporting, i.e. outside the institution, making it easier for truth to be spoken to power.

This could lead Hungarian citizens who are directly affected by the increasing corruption level in the Fidesz-led government to speak out and report what they witness.

The whistleblower directive is also an unprecedented success story of citizen-led legislative initiative.

Driven by civil society organisations, academics (we had the opportunity to draft the first text of the directive), citizens and the European parliament, this directive is a remarkable example of how agenda setting in Brussels can be more democratic and closer to the citizens.

It is only the concerted push for the past three years led by the parliament together with civil society and experts' advice on the EU's powers to legislate on the matter that results in today proposal by the commission offering a wide scope of protection both in the private and public sector for certain EU policies.

If adopted, the EU whistleblowers directive EU will join the arsenal of tools that can be mobilised to force national institutions themselves to take action, ranging from requests for access to documents, petitions to the European Parliament, or complaints to the EU Ombudsman.

It is this kind of transnational mobilisation that Europe needs more than ever to counter the many attacks to the rule of law.

Vigjilenca Abazi is assistant professor of EU law at Maastricht University & Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law, HEC Paris and author of Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society. They contributed to the drafting of the first draft whistleblower directive for the EU Greens at the European Parliament in 2016

Agenda

Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK

The European Commission will present proposals to protect whistleblowers, combat fake news and organise the digital single market. The international community will gather in Brussels to discuss how to help Syrians in the current war and after.

Brexit vote manipulated, says data whistleblower

Christopher Wylie told British MPs that the campaign behind getting the UK to leave the EU had used dubious methods to sway voters. He said Canadian firm Aggregate IQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica to target people.

Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair

US authorities have arrested the chair of the Maltese-registered Pilatus Bank for tax evasion. The bank facilitated political corruption in Malta but its whistleblower is now facing jail in Malta and fears for her life.

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us